Chapter 1: Meetings and Acquaintances -- Page 2
The Braeryn (Xull'rae's Plight)

Roughly five minutes had passed since Cogliostro and his small entourage took their leave of Narbondel's Shadow. In their wake, the Inn's proprietor hastened to pass a message along to Xull'rae right as she prepared to leave. How he had known her identity, cloaked as she was, had not been revealed; the room was filled with no less than forty of the proprietor's regular, somewhat loyal guests. Xull'rae figured it would not be to her benefit to cause a ruckus in order to find out.

Reviewing the message let her know it came from a certain bladesinger that she had come to know, and it asked her to meet him at the ramshackle dwelling he'd managed to procure for himself in the Stenchstreets district as soon as was possible. Sighing loudly to herself, Xull'rae wondered what the damnable male was doing here and what he wanted now.

Xull'rae left the tavern and moved her way carefully through the crowded streets. Her steps were deliberate and slow as she did not want to bump into anyone or have her cloak brush against dirty bodies. The Braeryn always made her skin crawl and her nerves shy away in pure disgust. She, from a noble house, could not stand this hovel of a place. Xull'rae didn't consider herself snooty, as living in the wilds of the Underdark for a time taught her to appreciate what she had, but she still could not pity those that chose to live this way. It was why she came to hate Menzoberranzan, it was ruled by fear; fear of change.

As expected in such environs, the odor of decay, sweat, and other less mentionable things proved nearly overwhelming to Xull'rae's senses. Though she kept her identity largely hidden, most of the creatures residing within the Braeryn were shrewd enough to figure out she was not one to be trifled with. She was but a short distance from her destination, one would think the journey would be a quick one. However, the streets were far busier, and more crowded, than she could remember. She had wind around so many mobs of the filthy, disease-infested slave races and outcast drow just to make forward progress.

At last, the description of the small spire that comprised the bladesinger's home was in her line of sight. The once-grand sculpting along its walls was now but a shadow of its former glory, covered in every manner of unmentionable fluids and gore. Xull'rae's amber colored eyes surveyed the home of the calling male, a frown creased her lips beyond the cowl of her piwafwi. Tiny feet carried her confidently inside.

Lee Anne ©2008

As soon as she was far enough into the hovel's interior, the thin, yet sturdy stone door was slammed shut behind her and a simple bar of metal dropped across its width, offering a tad more security from the dregs outside. There was a dim illumination spreading across the small entrance chamber, shining down from some obscured light source on the level above. It took a moment for Xull'rae to make out the familiar shape of the Bladesinger leaning against the secured door; his tightly muscled silhouette seemed to heave with labored breathing.

Vesz'aun's trademark crooked grin shone brightly a moment later within the small patch of shadow he was in and a heartbeat later, his handsome, sharp featured face came into view. He was dripping sweat from his brow and rivulets of the salty liquid ran down the length of his bared, obsidian torso which offered a certain sheen to the wasp tattoo which encased the bulk of his wiry chest.

The shock of white hair which framed that visage was quite different from its normal preened style, now it was matted down with sweat to the point it appeared he had just bathed. Twin pools of crimson locked with her amber eyes as he slowly drew out one of his slender leather-clad hands to wipe his forehead. Dark liquid, perhaps blood mixed with less mentionable things, dripped from between his fingers as he scrubbed his mouth and then spoke. "Fire-blossom, so kind of you to drop by..." A slight cough then escaped Vesz'aun and tiny flecks of blood lingered on his exquisite lips.

Xull'rae's frown deepened upon scrutinizing him and his condition. He looked just as dirty as the rest of the wretches in this place. Normally Vesz'aun would always catch her eye, though she'd never admit it. He was quite a looker, with a body that most matrons would kill each other for just so they could be the one to have him father drowlings to ensure they would be pretty. But now he was repulsive.

She stepped away from him in a cool manner, then with a huff, asked, "What do you want Bladesinger...?"

A perplexed frown creased Vesz'aun's countenance for a moment as he considered her question, only to have it replaced with yet another crooked grin. "I've been well, thank you...well, more or less," he replied. Then he turned away just as another short wheezing cough was emitted. "I just love the way that hood frames your face...." he added in, but his grin faded fast as more blood-filled spittle came forth as he spoke.

"Look," Vesz'aun goes on to explain after seeing Xull'rae scowl, "one of these wretches used a poison on me that I don't happen to have an antidote for...I've managed to delay the effects for a time, but well, I figured maybe since you fawn over me so much, that you'd, well, help me...." He frowned, realizing he sounded too needy. Then just as quickly, a bright, beaming, out of place smile was offered to her; much hope was etched into it. Pleading hope!

Xull'rae suddenly burst out laughing, finding it ludicrous that Vesz'aun would assume she'd help just like that. She caught her breath and exclaimed between the laughter. "What? You called me for this?"

She looked him over, saw his boyish face and almost fell for it, but shook it off with a sigh. "In truth I cannot cure it but I can delay it some more. I'm still young you know and still learning my prayers for spells. Most priestesses are two hundred or three hundred years old just to get where I'm at already. Being an arachne doesn't automatically give me great power, but I can see about getting an antidote some other way."

For the moment all Vesz'aun could do was blink, stupefied, but by what Xull'rae couldn't tell. Then, ignoring her "reluctance," it never really registering in his mind anyway, he twisted about and gathered up his ornate elven sword known as the thinblade from where it was leaning near the door and took up a worn leather rucksack which sat near the blade. Items in hand, he nodded to her with a grateful, charming smile. "Okay then, do your mumbo-jumbo, then lets head back to your place. I can just stay there while I heal up, I don't mind you attending me for a few days."

"You come, with me...?" Xull'rae scoffed. It was the most absurd idea. "Why don't you just go the Vengeful Weave Inn and rest there? You need to go there anyway because I'm going to pack and head back to Sshamath," she offered.
©2006 Apis Teicher
Vesz'aun looked at Xull'rae, confused. Did he not just say he was going to her place? His words were spoken slowly and deliberately, in a tone as if he were talking to a child, thinking her a bit slow at the moment. "Yes, I will come with you, which is what I said." Then something else dawned on him, "Hey! You want me to go to Sshamath with you? Great!" he exclaimed.

Realizing he showed a bit too much excitement, Vesz'aun recovered a bit and postured himself more formally. "Yes, of course you would want your great protector along. I shall not fail in my duties."

She smiled at him then, moving toward him to offer comfort, but he interrupted her by speaking. "Now, can we go back to your place, or what? And where the heck is this Inn you're talking about? Is it near your compound, or are you staying there? Matron kicked you out?" between smiles, Vesz'aun coughed once more, though no spittle came forth this time. His features, however, were contorted by betrayed pain.

Xull'rae grabbed his rucksack, rolling her eyes as she started to pack. Vesz'aun was a handsome one, but not very smart at times. In truth she kept him because he seemed to be the only drow male that did her bidding and found her attractive. "I'm not taking you to the compound. I can't, you are not allowed there remember," she reminded him and smile slipped away as irritation crept into her tone.

Once more the bladesinger looked perplexed and then traces of an assured grin came to rest upon his visage as he nodded heartily. "Ah, so the Matron is jealous that you have me, and she doesn't. Yes, I suppose that would cause some friction around the ol' compound. I guess I could slap it to her and then sneak around the place while she is in the bliss of our union's aftermath," he mused quietly and thoughtfully.

Xull'rae shook her hooded head in exasperation, dropped the sack, and started the incantation of the spell that would delay the poison. It would offer some relief and maybe shut him up. She wanted away from him now; he ruined her mood for affection.

"Oh yeah, I'll hush up now," Vesz'aun offered, sensing her mood, but just kept on regardless. "I don't want to interrupt your concentration. Bet that's difficult to remember the words, huh? Yeah, I know, I stumble on the few incantations of wizardry under my belt at times. I just hate when people blabber on while I'm trying to cast........So, almost done? I'm dyin' here, ya know?"

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"Why don't you try Chessintra's compound?" Xull'rae asked in a patient tone when she was done. She spoke again before he could. "She'd greatly offer you a place to stay. Because if you asked her, it would make her think you were interested in her and that you left me," she suggested; anything to make him leave before she caused him injury. He was frazzling her nerves rapidly.

Vesz'aun look puzzled and asked, "who?" He wracked his brain trying to put a face to the name. Once he did, he dismissed her idea, "Oh, that bimbo, why would I want to stay there? Sure, she's got a nice set of teats, but her hair is just plain ol' white, I mean, c'mon, yours is so much more vibrant. And why would I want her to think I like her? And we're together, you and I?" the last query was spoken in an almost dreamy manner.

Xull'rae clenched her tiny hands and almost struck him in anger, but she took in a deep breath and calmed herself. "Then go fondle them. She'll heal you of your poison if you do. If she thinks you are interested in her, she'll heal you, understand?" she repeated. "Besides once you get healed, get her drunk and high tail it out of there. As for my hair, don't flatter me. I still am not going to bed you, and...together...yes, at this moment we are together in the same room.........." Xull'rae was losing her cool, her temper surfacing.

Vesz'aun didn't even notice. He was seemingly lost in a flighty haze for some long moments as the magic's took effect and all he could mutter afterward was, "We're together.....Yes, get drunk...bed me....Fondle...."

Xull'rae groaned and said through clenched teeth, "Go to Chessintra's compound. I'll meet you there...naked... so you better hurry. Because if you don't get there fast enough, I will get bored and leave!"

Yes it was ridiculous to say, but a bluff did not have to be sensible. Xull'rae hoped he'd fall for it in his disgruntled state, for it was a better alternative than her violent thoughts.

The Bladesinger blinked in more than mild surprise. He once again partially comprehended while his imagination filled in the gaps. "So, you want me to get naked and meet you at Chessintra's, for a threesome?" without waiting for an answer, he quickly spun toward the door, fumbling with the metal bar. "I shall not fail in my duties!"

Xull'rae blinked and gawked at him, disbelieving his stupidity in translation and just uttered a startled yes in response.

Within moments Vesz'aun was out the door, slamming it off the wall so hard it cracked. The fact he nearly stumbled over a drunken, lounging hobgoblin just outside never registered in his mind, even as various hoots and hollers greeted him as he pushed his way through the crowded streets beyond. He bellowed out, "Outta my way, gimps, I'm on my way to the Seven Heavens!"

Xull'rae sighed once more as she watched him go, before giving way to snickering as she continued her preparations to start her journey for Sshamath that evening. If the drow male known as Vesz'aun got himself killed on the way to the bitch's compound, oh well, she could always try enticing an elf or two. True, elves were so different from the drow, but surface dwellers, even arrogant ones, could find her attractive and an odd ball like her couldn't be too picky on pawns nowadays.
Jacky Morris ©2011

"Hm, please tell me he's not really a drow? Even being a human as I am, I know drow are not like that. I've never heard of a drow like him. It's quite disturbing to think about in all honesty," interrupted a deep voice, one she'd been acquainted with maybe only twenty minutes ago. It came from behind her, belonging to the bald headed human, Cogliostro.

"Get used to it, he's coming along, even if you end up killing's called obsession and he'll jump in a fiery pit if he knew I would..." Xull'rae replied and went passed him. She was not surprised he was there. He must have arrived when she was casting or was here even before she was as she never felt any magic, but she paid enough attention to notice that he was wearing flowing robes of deep blue. The attire was much more fitting to the description she had been given of him before they met.

Cogliostro took her lack of reaction as proof that she was tough to sneak up on and ready for just about anything. "Mm, I'm thinking that his death will come long 'ere I 'get used to him'. At any rate, I need you to come with me for a short time," he said. His meaty hands were clasped casually behind his back and his demeanor very nonchalant as he turned off towards a side passage that naturally connected to Vez'aun's hovel. Cogliostro's bidding had no semblance of being questioned as far as he was concerned.

"Men always need something; it's why the gods made women…to do what they cannot. What is it now?" Xull'rae's tone was clipped as she continued to pack, though she was aware of his moving form.

Cogliostro stopped in his tracks, frowning in irritation. He turned back to face her. "I have no need of you to do anything, drowess. There is a thing I must show you, something beneficial to yourself to be certain. So please do hasten with your task and let us carry on." He turned his back to her once more.

In response, Xull'rae threw one of the rusty daggers that had been on the floor at him, knowing full well he could block it, but did not care. She was not one to take bad moods or orders lightly.

The dagger sped unerringly toward his broad back. Cogliostro hid the trace of a humored grin which temporarily came upon his features as the rusted weapon bounced off him harmlessly and clattered upon the filth-strewn stone beneath their feet.

Fuming, Xull'rae heaved the pack over her piwafwi covered shoulder and stalked after him because she was never one to turn down the opportunity to benefit herself. But her whole body, down to the way she walked, said if another word uttered from him she'd attack; no matter that he could hand her her entrails, she would try anyway!

Having no wish to kill her at this time, Cogliostro gave her the silence she wished for as they journeyed farther into the tunnel; it narrowed and he had to turn sideways and crab step, then duck down to get through the small narrow opening that led back into the Braeryn. He did notice Xull'rae putting her bag away and that the sexy little red number with the split she had been wearing was changing into something frilly underneath her piwafwi.

Cogliostro could have looked passed the glamer to see what she really was wearing, but found her immediate change fascinating for the time it took to create a complicated looking outfit. He wished her cloak was open more so he could see more than just scraps of fabric; he wanted to see how detailed it was.

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Xull'rae was reckless for doing it so out in the open, but as if reading his mind, she savagely pushed a beggar who asked her for a copper, out of the way. The wretch crashed into another poor looking pick pocket. They both fell and cowered as Xull'rae moved past. This made the degenerate mobs part to make a clear path for them, though none stopped moving to look at her or Cogliostro.

Some long minutes had passed when they finally came to one of the outer walls to stand before the battered doorway of yet another once grand building; this one had been carved into the wall itself. With a simple gesture of Cogliostro's hand, the illusory spider webs covering most of the doorway, disappeared, granting them access into the dark confines.

Being something of a gentleman, Cogliostro stopped and offered Xull'rae to go first. The hooded drowess peered at him and gave him a look that said, 'are you stupid? This is the Underdark. You go first and die.'

Shrugging slightly, he turned and entered the abode. Nothing untoward seemed to happen, much to Xull'rae's dismay as she followed him.

The place was an unadorned, dust filled chamber. In fact, Cogliostro turned around upon her entrance, and told her to step back out. "If you would...." his tone was polite as he made a gesture to emphasize his words and trailed off.

"You are so weird, all wizards are I swear," Xull'rae commented as she stepped back out carefully.

"Mm, yes that we are," Cogliostro's words became distant as she complied. His voice echoed as blue light engulfed her vision for a second, maybe two, and the scene she stepped into was one more familiar to her than the Braeryn. It was dark, dreary, and full of tall stalagmites and stalactites; the Darkwoods. The palpable feel of her true god's power emanated from all around her. After her eyes adjusted a bit, she saw that she stood almost directly below the Tower of the Masked Mage, Vhaeraun's temple in Sshamath.

"Okay...explain what that was. Because I make it a habit never to dabble in the arcane magic shit and just stick with what I know and am granted in divine power." Xull'rae looked around in bewilderment as she realized her hood had fallen down in the transition, revealing her long, thick mane of red coppery colored hair. It tumbled from its confines of the piwafwi to dangle at her waist in a knotted ponytail. A lock of white flowed through it from her right brow; a contradiction to the natural rustic color of the rest of her hair. Her glamer was also not active, revealing her black nightscale armor underneath her cloak.

"Talking to yourself, revered Sister?" asked a male voice, whom she was more acquainted with than Cogliostro's.

A quick look about revealed that the human was nowhere to be found. The speaker, however was quite evident. His skin was obsidian and was covered in grand layered robes of midnight hue. A long mane of white hair flowed freely, yet neatly down past his shoulders that reached his waist. The drow was short,
Eeren 2009
slender, and had a relatively young, though stress-aged face. He was plain looking, and his crimson eyes now stared at her questioningly. There was a superior mannerism to the male's posture and his gaze held just a tad of humor upon seeing her plight.

Xull'rae began to rant to him. "You know I'm really beginning to hate that bald bastard, tolerance be damned, and no...I'm not talking to myself...I just arrived from Menz-- never MIND!!" her amber colored gaze was sharp, then turned respectful upon remembering who it was she speaking to. For a moment she forgot his superior rank.

"My apologies Shadow Sorcerer Pharaun..." she began, "transportation nowadays leaves one on edge." Xull'rae made herself look as humble as she could.

"So I am observing...fret not, Sister. I am aware of the portal and the human," was Pharaun's generous reply. "I have been waiting here for you," he continued, "and am gladdened, it--the portal, that is--works. Though I must admit I am a bit perturbed at your lateness. However, that is to be set aside, as we now have one more vastly useful tool at our disposal."

©2006 Melissa McGuckin

It took everything in Xull'rae not to roll her eyes and to give off the impression of meekness. "If I am late, again my apologies. How may I serve the Masked Lord and my fellow brethren?" she bowed low, keeping her gaze averted.

Seemingly unaware of her true feelings and thoughts, Pharaun stepped back from the portal and inclined his head toward it. "Step back through and carry on as you were. We of the Tower shall be reacquainted with you soon enough."

Again it took everything in Xull'rae not to retort and complain. Instead, she nodded slowly and bowed once more with flawless grace, stepping through the portal obediently.

The momentary disorientation was far less this time, as if she were already used to teleportation travel. She was once again in the confines of the abandoned building where Cogliostro stood, waiting patiently. "I take it the trip went flawlessly, very good. You are alive, whole, and seemingly unaltered." he observed.

"No, you're still ugly, annoying, and dress in bad taste. That's bad, not good," was Xull'rae's blunt reply, but she gave a single nod as he continued, showing she understood him.

"Mm, I'm heartened to hear the journey hasn't dulled your wits or the sharpness of your tongue," remarked Cogliostro.

"Now, you are free to do as you wish. This portal is for the use of you and your Vhaeraunian brethren. All you need do is concentrate while stepping through the doorway and it will whisk you to the Darkwoods. Otherwise, 'tis a normal door," he stated in a lecturing tone.

Once more, Cogliostro turned from Xull'rae dismissively and casually walked back into the Braeryn. "Carry on as you will. And feel free to take advantage of the extra time this portal will afford you within Menzoberranzan....Oh, and do enjoy that threesome...." he chuckled as he left.

"Yeah, I will!" Xull'rae called after him, her temper boiling fast and hot, "Myself, my dagger, and my day the three of us will be sure to dismember you!" She smiled in a sultry manner with true genuine malice, enhancing the dark beauty she possessed, but was utterly blind to.

"Mm, as long as you do it in an enticing manner, I'm game. Fair journey to you," he shot back, not even bothering to turn around. Cogliostro couldn't help but smile humorously to himself as he strode ever further into the throngs.

So it is true, Xull'rae thought to herself. All human's are the same...stupid! She shook her head in honest disbelief at that thought and carried about her business as usual. She wanted to tie up loose ends before heading home to Sshamath and returning to her daily life as a Masked Traitor.

Interrupt the Bard -or- let her continue